By Jim and Susan Vogt
It doesn’t take much digging into the
history of the Catholic Church to
realize that, from the Crusades to the
Inquisition, from the selling of indulgences
to the clergy sex-abuse crisis, there have
been sins, abuses of power and distortions
of Jesus’ message. Yet, despite the human
failings of its members, the Church has
thrived, always believing that “[t]he Holy
Spirit will lead us into all truth” (Catechism
of the Catholic Church, #729).
At the same time that some Church
leaders acted in ways that we now see as an
embarrassment or, worse, a prostitution
of the Church’s mission, there are many
examples of individuals who faithfully
and heroically lived the Catholic faith:
St. Francis of Assisi renounced wealth to
follow the path of peace and simplicity,
recently beatified Franz Jägerstätter
rejected Nazism at the cost of his life and
Archbishop Oscar Romero challenged
the political establishment.
There are thousands of canonized
saints and countless others, many whom
we know personally, whose Catholic faith
has led them to live saintly lives. Consider
the mother who sits with a sick baby, the
father who unconditionally loves a wayward
child, the neighbor who takes in
foster children: Christians act out of love,
prompted by the gospel of Jesus, whether
convenient or not.
Beyond the actions of individuals,
there are the words and works of the
Church as a corporate body. For example,
there is the trust in the “people of God”
(Lumen Gentium), ushered in by Vatican
Council II, and the U.S. bishops’ peace
pastoral. The collective Catholic community
at its best performs the corporal
and spiritual works of mercy through
Catholic institutions, hospitals, schools
and missionaries. These are living
evidence of the communion of saints,
bolstering and encouraging our faith.
BUT. . . there are tragic exceptions that
may lead one to question Christ’s presence
in the Church. Some of the mistakes of
Church leadership were results of human
error. For example, the betrayal of sacred
trust brought about by clergy sex abuse
may have begun in illness and ignorance
but became an abuse of power as some
bishops secretly moved abusing priests
from parish to parish. Now, lay Catholics
are calling for transparency and accountability
of Church leadership.
Some mistakes were functions of
being culture-bound, e.g., believing that
slaves were needed for economic viability
or that women should cover their heads and not take leadership roles. It’s harder, however, to sort truth from cultural biases in our own day because proximity can cloud our vision.
Many women in today’s Church struggle
to find their place and voice in the community.
Authority in the Church has long
been tied to ordination which is limited
to men, and the Church is still struggling
over inclusive language. If the words “he”
and “man” are no longer understood to
include females, shouldn’t the Church
language be changed to reflect this?
Is it possible to be called to both priesthood and married life? We already
face the conundrum of having married
priests who join us from other denominations.
Could the Spirit who “will lead
us into all truth” be showing us that it’s
time to change the current Church
discipline of celibate priesthood?
The Church we love is a mystery at
times! Certainly there are incongruities in
the practice of our faith which confound
even the wisest among us:
■ There is a growing unwillingness to
blindly accept papal teaching, yet Pope John
Paul II was beloved, especially by youth.
■Many couples use methods of birth
control other than natural ones, yet they
welcome children and maintain marital
■ The Church has always stood on the
side of the poor, but many Christians,
including some Church leaders, lead lavish
lifestyles while our neighbors plead for
food, clothing, shelter and health care.
■Many have abandoned traditional
practices like frequent confession and the
rosary, but a growing number feel attracted
to devotions like Eucharistic Adoration.
■ Some adults hold to a moral code and
seek spiritual rootedness but have loosened
their affiliation with the institutionalChurch.
These are complex issues and, as a
living Church, we trust the Holy Spirit
to guide us and work through the
discernment of all faithful Catholics.
How does one keep the faith while
revitalizing and reforming the Church
from within? Certainly the Church needs
to stay faithful to the founding vision
of Jesus while being held accountable as
a human institution. The wisdom is in
recognizing the difference. We suggest:
■ Become an educated Catholic.
This is not about college degrees but
rather grounding one’s faith in fact, not
sentimentality. All professions require
ongoing formation. Read substantive
publications and attend presentations
■ Become an invested Catholic.
Take responsibility for our Church by
running for parish council, serving on
diocesan or parish committees and
becoming active in organizations working
for positive Church reform such as
Voice of the Faithful and the Catholic
Common Ground Initiative. The clergy
sex abuse crisis underscored the need for
more transparency and accountability in
the Church. That only happens if people
take ownership and get involved.
■ Trust your instinct and intuition.
Vatican II teaches, “To the extent of their
knowledge, competence or authority the
laity are entitled, and indeed sometimes
duty-bound, to express their opinion on
matters which concern the good of the
church” (Lumen Gentium, #37). If you have
the gut sense that something a Church
leader does or says doesn’t ring true, check
it out. It may be a misunderstanding, or
you may need to bring an abuse to light.
Trust your God-given instinct. Study, pray
and check your motivation, then speak the
truth as written by the Spirit on your heart.
■ Claim your place in the Church.
It’s as much your Church as the pastor’s,
bishop’s or pope’s. As Vatican II repeatedly
reminds us, the Church is the “people
of God.” The voice of faithful, knowledgeable
and Spirit-led Catholics is an
important gift to the Church.
What is an example from your own
experience of the Church at its best?
What feelings accompanied that
What are your feelings about
the failures of Church leaders and
members to live gospel values?
What truth do you find in the
Catholic Church that helps keep
you faithful in spite of its human
What are you doing/can you do to
take ownership of the Church and
help keep it on the path of truth?
Pieces of April
By Frank Frost
In the film
Pieces of April,
a family full
of flaws and dissension,
in mutual respect, stumbles forward in
an attempt to find reconciliation and
mutual acceptance. It can provide an apt
parable for the struggle some Catholics
experience at times in attempting to
embrace and love their Church.
April (Katie Holmes) has invited
her mother, father, sister, brother and
grandmother to drive from the distant
suburbs to her East Village apartment
in New York for Thanksgiving. It is
only a half-day’s drive, but it is an
emotional journey that revisits a lifetime.
It is not a visit either April or
her mother, Joy (Patricia Clarkson),
looks forward to, but is driven by those
mysterious ties that bind a family in
spite of everything. April has indelible
memories of being profoundly dissed
by her mother as a child. Joy maintains
that she does not retain a single happy
memory of April growing up and
cites reasons for rejecting her daughter
over the years—piercings, tattoos,
petulance, shoplifting, living with a
The extent of April’s determination
to reconcile with her family is
demonstrated by the effort she makes
to bake a turkey and prepare all the
trimmings, her first-ever attempt. Add
complications due to a gas oven that
won’t light. But when the family finally
arrives, the unsavory neighborhood
and the introduction of April’s African-American boyfriend dash their urge
for reconciliation, and they retreat to
the emotional neutrality of a diner.
There comes the movie’s key moment:
When Joy observes a young child in
the diner’s restroom abandoned by her
mother, the day’s negative memories
take on a new light.
Next time you watch Pieces of April,
■ What’s the significance of the
turkey salt-and-pepper shakers?
■ Does the film excuse the past
behavior of April—or of Joy? Apply
“hate the sin but love the sinner”
to your own life and to the Church
■ How can family ties triumph—in personal life and in the Church—despite painful and serious flaws?
By Judy Ball
Arecent study on the church
affiliation of U.S. adults shows
that the religious landscape is
changing dramatically. This is especially
true for the Catholic Church, which has
experienced the greatest net losses of any
religious tradition included in the study.
Conducted by the Pew Forum on
Religion & Public Life, the study does
not detail why so many people raised
Catholic no longer describe themselves
Winnie Honeywell knows full well why
she describes herself as a Catholic today—and why she intends to remain one. “The
Church is a family I was baptized into,”
she told Every Day Catholic. “I can’t imagine
where else I would go. No other
Church has the fullness and depth as ours.”
She points especially to Catholic teachings
on social justice, which she calls “models
for our Protestant friends.”
It’s not that she hasn’t seen the Church,
warts and all, up close. A cradle Catholic,
she celebrated her husband Wally’s entrance
into the Church not long after they married
49 years ago. Together they raised
their four sons, now adults, in the faith.
She and Wally saw the potential in the
Worldwide Marriage Encounter movement
and took a leadership role in promoting
it in their archdiocese and beyond. For
the past 31 years, she has been on the
staff of the Family Life Office in the
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, and
presently serves as its director. She will
retire in late June.
With revelations of clerical sex abuse,
the last few years have been trying ones
for many Catholics. But not for Winnie,
who holds a master’s degree in adult
education/family ministry. “The sexabuse
crisis didn’t send me reeling,” she
said, even though Church leaders did
not handle it well, especially at first. She
could understand the anger people felt
toward the Church. But she was heartened
by how she saw her local Church
leaders handle it.
“The Church has learned about prevention,
and numerous bishops have personally
gained by listening to victims’
stories,” she said. “The Church has learned
to be more transparent and to move more
quickly” when sex abuse is suspected.
Winnie also has sympathy for members
of the clergy, who “live in a celibate
world” and don’t have the experience
of “living within a family every day.”
Winnie has become accustomed to
answering questions from family and
friends about why her relationship with
the Church has not changed while other
equally committed Catholics have severed
their ties. She has no interest in
joining a movement that seeks to bring
about Church reform.
“I guess I’m from a different generation.
I’ve seen a lot of sin in my life.
Sin is a part of life. My family is flawed.
My marriage is flawed. I’m flawed.
Friendships are flawed. To me, commitment
is important in any covenant. If
my husband and I had agreed that
divorce was an option, we wouldn’t be
here. The Church is my home. Why
would I abandon it?”
By Jeanne Hunt
The Grater family has gradually
stopped participating in St. Bridget’s
Catholic Parish. Religion class
conflicted with Craig’s basketball practice,
and Cynthia was bored and complained
about going. Bill and Marie had too much
on their plates and, with the scandals in the
Church, they were embarrassed to admit
they were Catholic. They judged that it
was easier to simply disappear from the
pews than to try to defend their Church.
This scenario is far too common today as
the Church rebounds from a nasty period
of failure and dysfunction. So, how can
we face these discouraging times? First,
we need to find hope in the history of the
Catholic Church. There have been other
periods of failure and discouragement
and, in the end, it wasn’t human beings
who brought health back to the Church
but the Holy Spirit who remains with us.
We must trust in the Spirit’s presence and
guidance and speak with encouragement
and hope to others in the Church. We
also need to continue our parish involvements
as living witnesses of that hope.
Second, we must support our faithful
priests. Most priests are living holy lives
of dedication to the Body of Christ. We
need to reach out in loving support of
these men. Write a note of affirmation.
Greet them warmly when you see them
and encourage them. Most importantly,
pray for them daily. Keep your pastor’s
name at the top of your prayer list. He
may be worn thin with his long days and
Finally, let hospitality be your special
concern. Look around your family and
friends for those you no longer see at
Church. Perhaps you can open the doors
of the practice of faith for them again.
I believe that nothing works better than
a personal invitation.
Being a welcoming voice, a positive
voice, brings more light to these discouraging
times than we can imagine. Often
those who have become apathetic simply
need a listening ear and welcoming
heart. Too many times we ignore the
opportunity to invite someone back to
Church because we feel awkward. The
courage to extend this invitation comes
from the Holy Spirit who has ample
strength for us.
The Grater family did not make an overt
decision to stop being Catholic. It just
happened. The remnant Catholic Church
needs to roll up its sleeves and work for
a Church in which to keep believing.